Cougars Ground Falcons in MAC Opener

Greg Solawa

A Homecoming crowd of nearly 4,000 saw SIUE men’s soccer open its tenure in the Mid-American Conference with a hard-fought 3-1 win over Bowling Green Saturday at Korte Stadium.

SIUE has won two straight and improved to 5-6 overall and 1-0 in the MAC. The Cougars moved to the MAC in June following seven seasons in the Missouri Valley.

With the win, the Cougars improved to 10-0 in Homecoming games since the return to NCAA Division I play in 2009.

Bowling Green fell to 6-5 overall. The Falcons dropped to 0-1 in the MAC.

“It was our most complete game, hands down in every aspect,” SIUE Head Coach Mario Sanchez said. “We handled a very tough Bowling Green team that puts you under a lot of pressure.”

Greg Solawa opened the scoring with his first goal of the season in the 32nd minute. Keegan McHugh sent a corner kick into the box and it was headed away, but came back to McHugh, who slid it to his left for Solawa. The Cougar junior hit a blast from the top of the box into the upper corner to make it 1-0.

“In the midfield he is one of the most talented players in the region and in the country,” Sanchez said of Solawa. “For him it was about belief in front of goal.”

Bowling Green answered with a goal off a free kick in the final minute of play before halftime. Moe Mustafa headed home the free kick from Tate Robertson to level the score at 1-1.

“At halftime nobody was rattled even though we gave up the late goal,” Sanchez said. “Full credit to the players for coming together at this point in the season and believing in one another.”

Devyn Jambga netted the eventual game-winner less than five minutes into the second half. Mohamed Awad sent a pass into the box where Jambga was able to redirect it past Bowling Green goalkeeper Anthony Mwembia, who was charging off his line. The goal was the first of the season for the senior striker.

“I joked with him that it was the most beautiful goal he has ever scored,” Sanchez said. “We were focused on him and told him to continue to work and continue to put himself in good spots. They all count whether it is a tap in or a deflection or a rocket.”

Solawa gave the Cougars some breathing room with his second of the night in the 58th minute. Jorge Gonzalez found Solawa on the right side of the box. He hit a low shot to the far post to put SIUE up 3-1.

“For me the second goal was important because that took a little more thinking and he really had to focus to put it in a spot low in the corner,” Sanchez said of the goal. “The first goal was pure reaction but the second took a little more thinking.”

The Falcons outshot the Cougars 16-8 including eight shots on goal. Robertson led the way with three shots, all of which were on target.

SIUE goalkeeper Kyle Dal Santo made seven saves, which one off his season high.

Sanchez had high praise for the turnout at Saturday’s annual Homecoming game.

“This is what SIUE is all about,” he said. “Having a huge turnout by the community, the alumni and the students is awesome. That’s why I am here, that’s why a lot of our players are here and we hope to continue to grow this.”